May 1, 2016
This morning I was cutting the tops off some fragrant strawberries given to us by bigsis. The act of hulling strawberries and their delicious smell immediately transported me to the late 1970s when I took my first job, in a restaurant that I will call Diet Restaurant.
Dieting has always been a bit of a thing around here, at least from the time of the physical culture movement of the 1930s. By the 1970s, dieting was such a pop culture phenomenon that my boss, a former refugee from Lebanon, decided to design a restaurant based on dieting. My friend got me a job there as a hostess.
When I wasn't seating customers, I was responsible for maintaining the stocking and appearance of the salad bar. This entailed "rotating" items (adding to the bins in the salad bar, and putting the older stuff on top) and keeping the dressings stirred so they didn't separate (vinaigrettes) or become translucent (creamy dressings). When I wasn't doing that, I was responsible for hulling case after case of strawberries to use on the diet soft serve that served as the base of the sundaes for which the restaurant was famous.
The first time I hulled strawberries, I went to toss out the hulls and got a talking to. It was at this point that I learned the level to which the food preparation at Diet Restaurant involved some sort of trickery. The salad bar was pretty straightforward -- three been salad from a can, fresh vegetables, kidney beans, etc. But everything else on the menu was kinda weird. They cooked the strawberry hulls and added them to the cream of spinach soup. The carrots that were baked into the fettucine alfredo were cooked with a little bottled orange flavoring "because carrots don't taste like anything". When the kale leaves that we used to cover the ice in the salad bar got too wilty-looking, the chef would wash them, chop them, and add them to the minestrone. Can you imagine how cheap a bunch of kale was back then? There's nothing extremely horrifying about these practices, but in the 70s, when everything seemed plentiful (except for gasoline), it seemed a bit shocking. These were economies that even my frugal mom wouldn't employ.
Anyhoo, things were changing in the late 1970s. Roe v Wade happened, and animal rights reached the popular consciousness. These two concepts were combined in a single horrifying menu item: Veal Parmesan. The thinking went like this: veal was delicious but it was the result of mistreatment of animals. Instead, the restaurant used a protein known (on the package) as "fetal beef". Urp.
Sexual freedom was also a big topic in the world, and Diet Restaurant was a hotbed of activity. Word on the street had it that the owner, a super handsome man, had a longstanding relationship with the head waitress. And that she was also in a relationship with his father. This didn't stop her from also pursuing me. One day she grabbed my breast with her hand, and that was the first inkling I had that she was interested. The old guy once pursued me around the restaurant with a fancy dress from the homeland that he wanted to see me in and ...good grief! The manager of the restaurant, who had been in my freshman Latin class in high school, stood back and laughed at the whole thing. Every day. He was no help.
By the end of the summer before college, when I left Diet Restaurant, I had gained 15lbs from the delicious diet sundaes, and one blog post's worth of stories.
Thank you, Diet Restaurant, you taught me many things.